The Royal Agricultural College has acquired a substantial farm near Cirencester as part of a major shake-up of its educational and in-hand farming activities.

The college, which dispersed its in-hand dairy herd last month, has acquired Harnhill Manor Farm, a 622-acre arable and livestock unit, for an undisclosed sum.

The RAC has chosen to reduce the arable acreage it was farming – which reached 4000 acres at one point – and negotiate a series of arrangements with significant farming businesses to provide a broader educational resource for its students.

Harnhill Manor Farm, which the college has farmed for several years as a tenant of the John Oldacre Educational Trust, will be contract-farmed by local farmer Tim Lander with the RAC retaining cropping policy and overall direction. Most of the land is in organic conversion.

Nearby college farms at Coates and Fossehill will be contract-farmed by Kemble Farms, a major dairy and arable operation. Students will also have access to Kemble Farms’ 800-cow dairy unit, while some former college farm buildings will be adapted to rear heifers for Kemble.

Dean of agriculture John Alliston, whose department will oversee the college’s farming activities, said the farm management data harvested from the new arrangements would be invaluable to students. “And the longer-term objective for Harnhill is to work with any partners who wish to demonstrate new technologies or conduct research. TAG (The Arable Group) will continue to run some field trials at Coates and Harnhill Farms.”

RAC Farms would continue its involvements in organic pig farming operation at Harnhill, plus its shareholding in Cotswold Organic Lamb, one of the biggest suppliers of organic lamb to Sainsbury’s, Prof Alliston said.

Former RAC farms director David Hardy, who has been at the helm since 2000, now runs his own farm management business but remains a director Cotswold Organic Lamb.

*The Royal Agricultural College is to host a two-day event focussing on educational farms and their management on 29 and 30 March 2010.